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Moni Ritchie Hadley is the author of the picture book, The Star Festival (2021, Albert Whitman). A half-Japanese military brat, she bounced back and forth from the USA to Japan as a child. Daydreaming was a favorite pastime. She received a BA in Psychology at UCLA and later became a home/hospital teacher for the LAUSD, where she taught students with medical needs. Also published in Highlights magazine, The Star Festival is her picture book debut.

CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome to Kite Tales! The first printing of your debut picture book, The Star Festival, sold out almost immediately—wow! Were you expecting that?

MONI RITCHIE HADLEY: I wasn’t even aware of this until I noticed that my publisher’s site (Albert Whitman) listed my book as “sold out.” My book released on April 1st; the second run was ordered on April 2nd. “Sold out” is relative to size of printing, and that can vary greatly between publishers, but it was a pleasant surprise that my book exceeded expectations!

CVZ: Do you feel that book promotions led by authors help significantly with the sales, or does that responsibility fall primarily on publishers?

MRH: More than half of my book’s first run was sold to distributors by the publisher. It is also available in 270 libraries. So, a large number of sales were out of my hands. However, I did feel it was my job to support sales however possible. I have no measure as to how much my promotions helped, but I’d like to think that they contributed to The Star Festival’s success.

CVZ: How did you promote your book?

MRH: Joining a debut marketing group (a group of authors who come together to pool ideas, resources, tools, and jobs) was one of the first moves after signing my contract. Belonging to this community has helped me at all stages of the process. Before the book was released, I focused on pre-sales. This included the obvious: asking family and friends to purchase and promote. It also included promoting on social media. I was not very comfortable at the time, and it’s still a learning process for me, but Twitter and Instagram posts became a regular habit. A cover reveal with kid’s book blogger, Good Reads with Ronna, helped generate excitement for my book.

After the book was released, my promotion included a book launch at my local bookstore (Once Upon a Time) and many guest blog posts. I also decided to make a book trailer. Posting animated images for my book was an easy and attractive way to promote on Instagram. I also participated in online events such as nErDcamp and the ALA Conference. Finally, I made a point of reaching out to as many indie bookstores as possible to let them know about my book. Because of the pandemic, stores were not stocking as many books as they normally would have but my extra effort seems to have helped get my books purchased.

CVZ: You sold this book unagented but now are represented. What made you seek representation?

MRH: I sought representation before I got my book deal, but there is no predicting a path to publication! The Star Festival was seen by an editor in a class and acquired shortly after that. I continued to seek representation because I wanted a partner to help manage my career and future deals. Commitment sprinkled with a bit of luck led me to Sarah Stephens at Red Fox Literary. She has worked in many facets of the literary world and brings knowledge of the industry as well as a creative and business perspective to all decisions regarding my writing.

CVZ: You call yourself a “half-Japanese military brat.” The Star Festival draws on your bicultural upbringing. Will you continue weaving Japanese elements into your stories?

MRH: Yes. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I consider myself lucky to have lived in Japan as a child. We moved around quite a bit, and I was continually trying to assimilate. When we moved back to the States permanently at the beginning of junior high school, I missed Japan terribly but felt that I could finally put roots down. Now that I have lived most of my life in the US, it has been enjoyable to revisit my Japanese heritage, my childhood memories, and research areas of interest related to my culture. My interest in writing spans various topics and categories including board books, nonfiction, early readers, and graphic novels, some of which are not Asian themed. But I will continue to write stories that offer kids relatable emotional connections and a peek into Asian culture.

CVZ: You were also a home/hospital teacher for LAUSD. How does that factor into your stories?

MRH: I experienced firsthand how resilient children were. The population of kids I worked with dealt with serious and, sometimes, life-threatening illnesses. I was welcomed into a diverse set of homes with kids across countries, cultures, socioeconomic statuses, circumstances, and interests. Those experiences helped me realize who I am writing for: kids from all walks of life, kids who bring a different schema to the stories they read. And yet, as diverse as they were, I could see that all kids dealt with common themes as well: acceptance, friendship, courage, compassion, honesty, and perseverance.

CVZ: You’re also interested in illustration. Is your goal to be an author-illustrator?

MRH: I am studying! Beautiful illustrations capture my attention in picture books. I love the page-turning contrasts of everyday life with the underground coal mines in Town Is by the Sea (Joanne Schwartz/Sydney Smith); books where words and pictures fit together so snug as in My Heart (Corinna Luyken); talented digital artists like Mizuho Fujisawa; the loose lines and shapes by Chris Raschka make me smile, and any book with textures by Britta Teckentrup, Leo Lionni, or Ezra Jack Keats! I do have my growth mindset cap on and aspire to illustrate my own books. But right now, I’m enjoying the process of discovery with mixed media.

CVZ: In closing, do you have advice to offer?

MRH: Don’t give up! If writing or illustrating makes you happy, then do it, pre-published and post-published.

Moni Ritchie Hadley today lives in Los Angeles, where she turns her sky-gazing daydreams into stories for children. You can connect with her via www.moniritchie.com or her Twitter and Instagram handle @bookthreader, and check out the trailer for The Star Festival here.

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Author photo by Steve Hadley. Cover art by Mizuho Fujisawa, courtesy Albert Whitman & Company.